To help prevent rape and sexual assaults, the University of Montana is encouraging its students to be “bad asses” instead of passive bystanders.

UM’s B.A.D.A.S.S. program stands for Be Aware, Decide to Act, and Say Something. Last year it trained hundreds of college students to be “active bystanders” who intervene when they see potentially dangerous situations developing at bars or parties, and say something, like, “That’s not cool.”

A panel of UM staff members talked Tuesday about that and other steps the Missoula campus is taking to make the campus safer at the Not in Our State: 2013 Statewide Summit on Sexual Assault, held at Montana State University.

After a nightmarish year in which UM became associated with the word “rape” and federal investigations, the Missoula campus is working to change its culture and educate students. Many of the efforts began before the federal investigations.

stander intervention training is gaining national recognition as a model for combatting sexual assault, said Beth Hubble, a UM professor of women’s and gender studies and co-chair of the University Council on Student Assault.

The “Make Our Move” campaign, developed in Missoula to encourage bystanders to take action, created a black-and-white advertisement showing a hunky guy with the bold message: “She was on her own so I made my move,” followed in smaller type by: “and told the guys harassing her to back off. They were really crossing the line.”

In May the U.S. departments of Justice and Education concluded their investigations of lax handling of rape reports at UM with agreements that require the Missoula campus to take several steps.

One requires all new students to take an online class called PETSA, Personal Empowerment through Self-Awareness. It stresses the importance of consent in sexual encounters. The Bozeman campus requires similar online lessons on alcohol and sexual assault, said Robert Putzke, MSU police chief.

While many UM students have criticized PETSA, 76 percent liked it and many thanked the university for requiring it, said Chris Fiore, UM psychology professor.

Campuses trying to combat sexual assault need to focus more on alcohol and campus cultures that center around drinking, two participants said.

Jim Mitchell, director of MSU’s Student Health Center, said everyone agrees that alcohol “is the No. 1 date rape drug.” It’s important not to blame the victim, Mitchell said, “but in reality a lot of bad stuff happens” when students have been drinking.

All colleges and universities struggle with drinking, but Montana has a “unique” drinking culture that’s “more challenging than other states,” said Rhondie Voorhees, UM dean of students and a UM grad who grew up in Missoula.

The federal agreements with UM have sparked criticism nationally from free speech, student journalism and civil liberty groups. Critics argue the agreements would lead to censorship, punishment for dirty jokes, and professors unable to talk about anything sexual because some student somewhere might take it as “unwelcome” sexual harassment.

Hubble disagreed, saying the agreements include language on freedom of speech.

“Yes, we’re going to protect academic freedom for professors to teach,” Hubble said. “I can still teach about sexual assault in class. I just can’t hit on a student while doing that.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

Correction

An earlier version of this story misspelled the acronym for the University of Montana's Personal Empowerment through Self-Awareness program.